Linebacker Ukeme Eligwe, the Chiefs’ fifth-round draft selection, did not have the college career he envisioned as a four-star recruit from Stone Mountain, Ga.
He was part of the Florida State’s 2012 incoming class along with quarterback Jameis Winston. After a redshirt season, Eligwe appeared in 13 games for the Seminoles’ 2013 national championship team.
A foot injury limited Eligwe to one game in 2014 and he was dismissed from the program in November for a violation of team rules.
Eligwe went to Georgia Southern and sat out one year under NCAA transfer rules before a solid 2016 season.
Add it up and that’s two full seasons of action spread over five years.
“It hurt more mentally then physically, even though I suffered some injuries in my career,” Eligwe said.
After playing outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense at Florida State and inside in Georgia Southern’s 4-3, Eligwe projects as an inside linebacker for the Chiefs, Derrick Johnson’s position.
Johnson continues his recovery from a torn Achilles tendon, and the Chiefs have veterans Ramik Wilson, Justin March-Lillard and D.J. Alexander at inside linebacker.
The Chiefs were enamored with Eligwe’s athleticism. He’s 6 feet 2, 239 pounds and ran a 4.58-second 40-yard dash at his pro day.
“That’s the first thing you notice when you watch his tape,” Chiefs scout Ryne Nutt said. “The kid can run …You put the tape on you see him covering tight ends down the seam.”
But there is the reality of limited on field experience over the previous five years. Nutt said Eligwe played catch-up in 2016, his only season as a starter since high school.
“If you watch the beginning of one tape to the end, you’re going to see a kid progressing in terms of his instinct and how he sees the game,” Nutt said.
It’s natural to wonder how Eligwe’s career might have unfolded if he hadn’t stumbled at the gate. A hand injury contributed to keeping him off the field as a freshman, when Eligew figured to make an immediate impact.
“I thought I was going to Florida State and start,” Eligwe said.
He didn’t start in Tallahassee but appeared in 10 games on the title team and was credited with 22 tackles including one against Auburn the BCS Championship Game.
The foot injury, the dismissal and the transfer cost Eligwe nearly two years of action.
“It humbled me,” Eligwe said. “It made me hungrier for sure.”
Eligwe was granted a medical hardship and awarded a sixth year of eligibility but he decided to enter the draft after a second-team All-Sun Belt season at Georgia Southern. He was credited with a team-high 104 tackles, including 9 1/2 for loss.
Don’t suggest to Eligwe that his arrival from one of those programs that doesn’t get much TV time makes him more of a project.
“I know a lot of guys that get that small school label,” Eligwe said. “Don’t get me wrong, I finished off at Georgia Southern. But coming out of high school I could have gone anywhere and I chose Florida State.
“I have a good mix because I saw both sides of the table.”
Nutt sees special teams in Eligwe’s immediate future. Beyond that?
“He’s going to have to come in and prove himself just like anybody else,” Nutt said. “Special-teams wise he comes in and contributes right way. But it’s up to him. He has to come in and earn it.”